Have you ever seen the movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? You know, that scene where the students are sitting in the classroom and the teacher is talking, throws out a quick “Anyone?” and quickly jumps back into “teaching”. The look on those poor students’ faces says it all.

Boring.

Yet, we all can relate. We have sat through those classroom lectures as a student ourselves. We can all likely agree on something: engagement matters. It is an essential piece of the learning puzzle. So what are the practical ways to make the engagement magic happen in your classroom?

Make it a Mystery

Students love the illicit. The element of not knowing is a powerful one. And in a world where every answer is a “Hey Google” away, it helps to withhold information and make them wonder and wait. What can you do to build a mystery in your classroom? It’s super simple! When you are getting ready to teach something new, hang a sign on your door that says, “Careful, new learning behind this door…Enter if you dare!” Then, post not-so-obvious clues to the learning that is ahead of them. Keep them guessing as you reveal small parts to the learning that awaits.

Thinking of inviting in a guest, in-person or through Zoom? Build the intrigue by sending out an invite to your students and keeping the details to a minimum. Tell them the date and time, and what to bring, but keep the rest a surprise. Students will love the mystery guest not only for the content that they will present, but for the element of surprise that builds up to their introduction.

Make it Connect

Connection is crucial when it comes to teaching the content we have to teach. How can we reach our students in ways that make them feel empowered to own their learning? One way is to give them different options in the ways that they can learn the content. Choice boards and learning menus are a great way to provide learning options while also covering the necessary content. Check out this resource for ideas and templates to get started!

Make it Fun

Learning should be fun. We sometimes tie ourselves to curriculum lessons that can be dry and lack creativity and personality. But that’s where all of your awesomeness comes in! Play a game like Scattergories when teaching your young learners about nouns. Go on a scavenger hunt around the library when teaching about elements of informational texts, and play a trivia game Family-Feud style when learning about the American Revolution. Why does that matter? Because fun matters. It makes learning memorable, and excites students in a way that makes them want to come back for more. This is exactly the feeling we want to leave our students with each and every day.

Make it Matter

When I was in fifth grade, I remember becoming an expert on the country of Greece. Random, I know. But for some reason, that country of islands was really interesting to me. I created a tri-fold board that I presented to an audience: All About Greece. I cut up kiwi and shared that with my guests (because back then, Kiwi was a local treasure not nearly as popular an export as it is today), and proudly dressed up as Athena, the Greek goddess whom the capital is named after. I still remember this 30 years later! Why? Because it was a project-based learning experience. For many weeks, I got to explore a country that intrigued me, gather interesting facts, and share my learning with others at a World Fair event we held at my school.

I learned so much that connected to many of the content areas, and having an audience to present it to really made me up my game. It mattered to me. So, don’t be afraid to do those things that make learning meaningful for your students. These projects can seem overwhelming, but the fact that students will talk about them for years to come exemplifies the power of learning that thrives as a result.

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